Where are the Wild Things?

Surely one of the most intriguing forthcoming movies is Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. It has the potential to be a warped and spectacular festival of dark and uncanny thrills. Or, it could turn out to be a big old mess, the smug and self-indulgent mess produced by a bunch of off-the-hook louchebags with more creative freedom than sense and an over-inflated belief in their own abilities. Either way, watching it struggle into life is a fascinating, sometimes skin-crawling, car-crashing clash of studio conservatism and rule-stretching artistic grandstanding. Maybe.

It’s difficult to imagine that Warner Brothers expected a run-of-the-mill children’s film and merchandising vessel when they employed Jonze and Eggers and let them cast indie-faves Catherines Keener and O’Hara, Michelle Williams, James Gandolfini and an array of old-school animatronic monsters, plus Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs providing the music. But they don’t seem happy to release the film as it has shaped up, amidst enticing rumours that kids at preview screenings find out deeply traumatising. It was scheduled to appear late in 2008, but has now been earmarked for an October 2009 release to allow reshoots. Most troubling for me, and probably others including the Puppetvision Blog, is the prospect that producers might impose the replacement of live action animatronic puppets with some CG stand-ins. I’m a fan of puppets – I don’t might them looking a bit rough or jerky. Especially in the context of a story like this, they bring the baggage of nostalgic otherness that computer graphics just can’t carry. Maybe objections like mine will go the way of the old vinyl vs. digital music debate. People just need more time to warm to CGI. But I’m going to sulk about it for a bit longer.
You can keep up with some updates on Where the Wild Things Are here, including a nice spot of damage limitation by Warner Brothers President Alan Horn. Can you spot the euphemisms in this quotation from his interview with the LA Times?:

“We’ve given him more money and, even more importantly, more time for him to work on the film,” Horn said. “We’d like to find a common ground that represents Spike’s vision but still offers a film that really delivers for a broad-based audience. We obviously still have a challenge on our hands. But I wouldn’t call it a problem, simply a challenge. No one wants to turn this into a bland, sanitized studio movie. This is a very special piece of material and we’re just trying to get it right.”

P.S. Here’s a YouTube link to some footage of an early Disney computer animation test for Where the Wild Things Are, made by John Lassiter, later head of Pixar, in 1983: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvIDRoO8KnM

And you can read Anne Thompson’s article about risky studio ventures here.

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